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Steve Jobs Tweaks California's Organ Donation Law

Did his experience with user-friendly interfaces help Steve Jobs double the number of organ transplants available in California?

This piece was originally published last October. See all coverage of Steve Jobs' life and death.


In 2008 and 2009 there was a lot of speculation about Steve Jobs' health. He was noticeably gaunt. But Apple PR wasn't clear about his condition, calling it a "cold" or a "hormone imbalance." It turns out he had a failing liver and was learning he needed a transplant.

As Business Insider tells it, Jobs then ran around the country, trying to get on as many liver waiting lists as possible. This is one (very expensive and time-consuming) way you can improve your chances of getting a donated organ if you have the resources. He ended up getting one, of course, but not everyone does.

The whole ordeal convinced him, apparently, that the process for getting organs was unfair, and the process of finding donors could be improved. As the story goes, he made a personal appeal to Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger to change the law.

And it worked.

Yesterday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that will make California the first state in the nation to create a live donor registry for kidney transplants.

The bill also requires California drivers to decide whether they want to be organ donors when they renew their drivers' licenses. According to one notable supporter, this second measure alone should double the number of organ transplants available in California.

It's a fascinating story, but here's the most fascinating detail: Apparently Jobs was pushing for that latter provision. He wanted to make sure that drivers didn't just have the option of electing to become donors, but actually were forced to declare whether they would or wouldn't be. I can't help thinking that's the contribution of someone who knows the power of nudges and default settings and is applying insights from user interfaces design to the DMV. And that makes me think that UI experts should be more involved in government, not just designing better tax forms but consulting on policy.

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